Monday, August 10, 2015

An Open Letter To Roland Emmerich About His Film Stonewall

Dear Roland Emmerich,

While perusing the blog-o-sphere last week, I, like many others, came upon the movie trailer for your newest film, Stonewall, and I was kinda thrilled to see it.

Then I saw it, and I was less than thrilled. Oh, sure, it tells the story of the fight for LGBT rights, and it tells the story of the Stonewall riots in the late sixties, but it tells them from the point-of-view of a young, white, newly out, kinda straight-looking and crowd-pleasing Midwestern boy named Danny.

But, and this is where I question the film, it isn’t just Danny’s POV, it’s Danny who becomes the kick-starter of the riots; it’s Danny’s story.

And that’s where less than thrilled comes in because there was no Danny there; there was no white boy starting the fight. The fight for our equal rights, the fight for acceptance and understanding, the fight for what would become a fight for marriage equality and equal treatment under the law for LGBT Americans was started by Marsh P. Johnson and Silvia Rivera, a black drag queen and a trans woman, and other black Americans and drag queens and trans women ... not Danny.

So, naturally, a lot of folks in our community — myself included — are enraged by the change, the white-washing of the story, and boycotts are threatened and Twitter is lighting up. But, to be fair, as much as I feel like being fair, I read your statement on the controversy, which goes like this:
“When I first learned about the Stonewall Riots through my work with the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, I was struck that the circumstances that lead to LGBT youth homelessness today are pretty much the same as they were 45 years ago.
The courageous actions of everyone who fought against injustice in 1969 inspired me to tell a compelling, fictionalized drama of those days centering on homeless LGBT youth, specifically a young Midwestern gay man who is kicked out of his home for his sexuality and comes to New York, befriending the people who are actively involved in the events leading up to the riots and the riots themselves. 
I understand that following the release of our trailer there have been initial concerns about how this character’s involvement is portrayed, but when this film – which is truly a labor of love for me – finally comes to theaters, audiences will see that it deeply honors the real-life activists who were there — including Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and Ray Castro — and all the brave people who sparked the civil rights movement which continues to this day. We are all the same in our struggle for acceptance.”
Now, I’m all for adding fictional characters to a story because it can add depth, and it can add another side to the story, but what you have done — at least from what we were shown in the trailer — is make it appear that the Stonewall riots began because Danny hurled a brick and that is just plain false.

And that annoys me because I’d love to see this story told; this story feels me with such a sense of pride at those who came before me, those who started this march, and it spurred me to come out and join this fight in whatever way I could. And so I would love to see it told well and correct, and that doesn’t seem to be what’s being done.

I’ll withhold all judgment until the film comes out, and, if it comes anywhere near Smallville, I’ll see it, but if the main characters who began this fight, Marsha, Silvia, and Ray, along with a horde of drag queens and trans women, are pushed to the sidelines so we can see what Danny does and how Danny started this all, then I’ll be among the many who are angry.

I know this isn’t an historical film, and it isn’t a documentary, but why can’t a film made about a time in history show us the history, the real history? Is it because mainstream America might be turned off by drag queens and trans women and people of color? Too bad. Do we need to white-wash our history to make it palatable for the general population? Then, as I said on a friend’s blog, why didn’t we have Daniel Day-Lewis play Martin Luther King in Selma? I mean, that would have widened the audience surely, right?

I want my historical films as fact and nothing else; I want the story, not the dramatization of the story; I want the story told from the POV of the people who were there, not fictional people. Marsha’s story, Silvia’s story, any number of those stories, would have, could have, made a breathtaking film about the fight for equality, why muck it up by creating a story when the original story should have been enough?

It just seems to me, Mr. Emmerich, that your film might be entertaining, to some, but it is not the true story of Stonewall.

And that breaks my heart because we deserve to have our story told, and told correctly.


Susan said...

You said it all, Bob. Thank you.

Hot Studs said...

Very true, buddy. :)

the dogs' mother said...

I think accurate historical films are
far and few between unfortunately.

Andrew Weiss said...

I agree, I despise historical events being portrayed inaccurately in movies. If they want to include a "wholesome" white kid, fine, but don't make him the story rather than the actual event.

Frank said...

From the trailer the movie is perhaps a little bit "Hollywood" (how else does a movie attract an audience?) but from what I've read, the movie actually does justice to history and those who were a part of it. I hope this is the case, but as you point out, it is not a documentary.

I will definitely see it and I think the "boycott" which is based on the trailer, is ill conceived and reactionary. Some people are too quick to be critical of things they haven't bothered to fully research or in this case, to see. I am weary of the "political correctness" police.

You say you will withhold all judgement, but your comments sure seem judgmental to me. I think it is wonderful that such a movie has been made and will hopefully be available to the mainstream theatre goer. Take it for what it is rather than condemn it for what it is not.

Bob Slatten said...

My judgement is at the rewriting of history. That angers me. This story is such an amazing story that to try and insert a fictional character into it for any reason is being the scope.
I'd like the story told, and I hope this story tells it, but I wish they'd done it without the additional charactersr and just stuck to the facts.

Biki Honko said...

I've read accounts that said Sylvia wasn't there, and accounts that she was.

I've decided to wait until I see the movie to decide just how white washed it is.

Sadie J said...

I had never heard of this (the riots or the film) until it exploded on Tumblr over the weekend-- and yes, people are mad and shouting Boycott-- so I'm glad you've given me a different perspective to consider.

Helen Lashbrook said...

Sadly most 'historical' films are very inaccurate and glossed over to make them palatable for bigger audience figures. If your only source for information about WW2 was from Hollywood films you might think that the US won the war single-handed. But that's the way things are in Moneyland tm; just be thankful Tom Cruise wasn't cast as Danny

Kyle Leach said...

Beautiful piece Bob. Re-writing of history for pop culture marketing or making money are two of the worst reasons to rewrite history. They easily could have made a fictional film and simply called it "Danny." They didn't. In fifty years the references and qualifiers for this film will be buried. So will our voices speaking out about the trailer and the historical re-writing. People will except everything in it as truth, including the faux white cis male savior, not knowing the fiction it is. We have seen this time and time again, especially with Hollywood films. Roland Emmerich didn't have to do it his way, but he made the choice to do this. He and the "writer" deserve every ounce of grief and hardship they get.